Headlines: November 28, 2018
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Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith has won a Senate seat in Mississippi after the runoff election on Tuesday. She beat Democrat Mike Espy in spite of her campaign being dogged by accusations of racism. Espy would have become Mississippi’s first black Senator since the Reconstruction era, had he won. Hyde-Smith garnered 54% of the vote in a race that had made Republicans nervous and had prompted President Donald Trump to schedule two rallies in support of her. Her win now brings to 53 the total number of Senate seats that Republicans control – a larger number than before the midterms. On election-day, Mississippians who were concerned about Hyde-Smith’s racist tendencies and political allegiance to Trump, held protests.
An Associated Press investigation, together with a federal watchdog agency have uncovered that staff at the migrant children’s detention center in Tornillo, Texas, have not been vetted properly. The usually mandatory FBI background checks for mental health staff and caregivers working with children, were waived, putting the safety of the thousands of children at potential risk. The AP report about the waiving of FBI background checks came on the same day as a memo from the Health and Human Services inspector general. The memo says, “Tornillo is using checks conducted by a private contractor that has access to less comprehensive data, thereby heightening the risk that an individual with a criminal history could have direct access to children.”
AP additionally found that BCFS Health and Human Services – which is the non-profit organization running the facility – is severely understaffed. It is providing 1 mental health clinician per 100 children, instead of the required 1 per 12 kids. There are currently more than 2,300 children between the ages of 13 and 17 being housed at the government tent-shelter. Most hail from Central America. Joshua Rubin is one of several activists who traveled to Tornillo and spoke with Associated Press.
Meanwhile Trump and Republican Party leaders met on Tuesday to discuss the President’s long-standing plan for a border wall and how to fund it. Trump wants $5 billion for the wall and has promised to shutdown the government over it. While a subcommittee has approved the large figure, the Senate is considering $1.6 billion. Trump retorted in an interview with the Washington Post, “We need Democrat votes to have a wall…Now, if we don’t get it, will I get it done another way? I might get it done another way. There are other potential ways that I can do it. You saw what we did with the military, with the barbed wire and the fencing, and various other things.” It appears as though Democrats are only too happy to give Trump at least some of what he wants. Think Progress balked at what appears to be Democratic Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer agreeing with Republicans on the $1.6 billion deal, and pointing out that Schumer, “has supported the GOP president’s agenda over a quarter of the time despite representing a state that Trump lost by over 22 points in 2016.”
Trump has threatened to cut off all government subsidies to GM after the auto manufacturer announced it would lay off 14,000 workers across North America. The President’s desperation to make GM preserve jobs is based on many promises of job creation he has made to his base particularly in the Midwest. An official with the United Auto Workers explained how he felt when he heard about the massive cuts.
Republican Senators are expected to grill Trump Administration officials including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis behind closed doors on Wednesday over US-Saudi relations in light of the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman has been personally implicated by numerous investigators including the US CIA as having ordered the hit on Khashoggi. But Trump has made it clear that US arms deals with the Saudis are more important to him. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell has said that the US needs to make, “some kind of response.” He added, “What obviously happened, as basically certified by the CIA, is completely abhorrent to everything the United States holds dear and stands for in the world. We’re discussing what the appropriate response would be.”
Among the consequences that Senators are considering is a vote to end US support for the Saudi war in Yemen. According to the Washington Post, “A bipartisan group of senators has proposed a spectrum of sanctions focused against the Saudi-led coalition and any other entity fomenting unrest in Yemen. Their bill would also curtail most weapons transfers to Saudi Arabia until the coalition pulls back from its Yemen campaign. But senior GOP leaders have yet to embrace the legislation, which stands little chance of passing Congress unless it’s inserted into a must-pass spending bill, due Dec. 7.” A number of prominent figures and former government officials have signed onto a letter urging Congress to end US support for the Yemen war.
As the Saudi Crown Prince visits the Tunisian capital this week, protests have broken out. One protester named Said Arous, who is a prominent human rights activist told Al Jazeera in Tunis, “I was here yesterday and I came here again to say ‘No’ to the murderer and criminal, Mohammed bin Salman.” He called Khashoggi’s killing “an appalling crime.”
And finally in the latest on the Special Counsel’s investigation into election wrongdoing, the New York Times reported on Wednesday that former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort’s lawyers had briefed the President’s attorneys during the period that Manafort was being questioned. The breach of secrecy is likely the reason why Robert Mueller’s team made a court filing on Monday saying Manafort had broken the terms of his plea agreement. There is speculation that Manafort’s lawyers spoke to Trump’s lawyers in hopes of a Presidential pardon.